Wednesday Writings

Starting Another Day With Chronic Illness

It’s another New Year! Emily and I hope you had wonderful holidays! As we start 2023, The Valley’s blog schedule will shift to posts every other week instead of weekly. We pray you will continue to be blessed by these posts and grow closer to God this year!

The Struggle of Another Day

I woke up exhausted and with a headache. I’d already been through a remarkably busy day and had another waiting for me as soon as I got out of bed.

I didn’t want to get out of bed. Didn’t want to start the chain of events that would run all the way until late that night: shower, get breakfast, tutor, teach, visit a friend, tutor again, make food, do more work, run errands, and so on. 

I buried my face in the pillow. “God,” I groaned, “can I not do life today?” 

As soon as I heard the words, I realized how ungrateful they sounded: ungrateful for the new day of life ahead of me, ungrateful for the opportunities to help and impact people, ungrateful for the chance to be God’s hands and feet as well as to experience His blessings in my own life. 

Besides, these tasks ahead of me were the work given to me by my Father. They were part of the way He was providing for my needs and giving me a chance to impact people (the exact thing I’d been meditating on and praying to do). 

That same morning I read Mark 4-6 in my devotion. In these chapters, Jesus mourns the death of his cousin John the Baptist, can’t get alone, is constantly serving others, and is so tired He sleeps through a storm (in a boat in the middle of the sea). 

And then I read a portion of Elisabeth Elliot’s collection of devotionals, Secure in the Everlasting Arms. In the chapter titled “The World Must Be Shown,” she discusses how God permits suffering, how our faith displays God’s love to the world around us, and whether our faith is in our plans or in God’s promises. (Coincidentally–or divinely–she also mentions the death of John the Baptist and remarks that Jesus never expected physical safety for Himself, let alone promise it for His disciples.)

She writes,

For most of us, it will not mean lions’ dens or Auca spears or imprisonment, but it will mean a daily, faithful, humble, glad obedience to the same Lord who has held steady all those who commit themselves to Him.

p . 94

In other words, we need to accept the suffering–big or small–appointed for us that day and “believe that God is God, He’s still got the whole world in His hands and knows exactly what He’s doing” (p. 93).

As these words percolated through my mind, I realized getting out of bed was a chance to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Jesus: 

  • Deny myself because my flesh wanted to stay in bed, be comfortable and lazy, and not have anything to do with people;
  • Take up my cross in carrying the burden of fatigue, aches, and crumminess appointed for me; and
  • Follow Jesus’ example in the gospels. He worked hard, to and through the point of exhaustion. He was 100% God with heavenly values while 100% human with earthly weakness and limits.

I pushed back the covers, swung my feet to the floor, and stepped into the day.

The Savior’s Example

One of the questions that batters my mind every time I read the gospels, as it did that morning, is how Jesus did it all–yet not all. He ministered to so many people, though there were still many opportunities He didn’t take or didn’t pursue. How did He not wear Himself out? And if He did, how did He keep going? Did He ever say no because He was exhausted, or only because He knew it wasn’t His Father’s will? 

Pastor Ben Stuart offers a roundabout answer to these questions:

[W]ho you think runs the universe will inform your values. Your values will shape your goals. Your goals will determine where you go in life.

Single. Dating. Engaged. Married., p. 67

Or, to put it in flow chart format:

Beliefs > values > goals > decisions

While he writes this in the context of matching your values with a potential partner’s, it’s a concept foundational to everyday living as well. What we believe determines what we value. What we value determines what goals we set. What goals we set determine what decisions we make. 

Jesus had His values lined up. He valued what His Father valued. His will was to “do the will of Him who sent Me” (Jn 6:38): to serve, to preach, to heal, and to disciple. 

Have you noticed how life-giving it is to do what we are meant to do? I’m realizing this as I teach, write, play music, and serve across the various planes of opportunity God has given me.

I believe Jesus found this same satisfaction, this same soul-filling joy of doing what He was sent to do. As He told His disciples after ministering to the Samaritan woman, “I have food to eat of which you do not know” (John 4:32). 

I think Jesus gives us the perfect example of the ultimate kind of self-care: soul structure.

Our culture has developed an awareness and a championing of what is called “self-care”: care for one’s self in order to be adequately equipped to care for others. To borrow the illustration from the pre-flight demonstrations, it’s putting your oxygen mask on first before you help someone else put on theirs. 

Each time I read the gospels, I look for Jesus’ routine of self-care. Did He use a dry brush to stimulate His nervous system before He took a bath? Did He set aside 20 minutes each night to write in a journal? Did He play games with His disciples to “just chill” and develop His friendship with them? 

Maybe not, but I know where I do see His routines of restoration and renewal:

  • in His times of prayer (sometimes through the entire night, foregoing sleep to spend precious, intimate time with His Father in Heaven),
  • in His moments of physical respite (whether at a friend’s house or on a boat), and
  • in His continual, surrendered dedication to doing what He was meant to do. 

Why do I say all this? Many self-care rituals, though often necessary, help mainly from the outside, while an example like Jesus’s demonstrates the inside-out changing power of soul structure, a concept effectively laid out in Gordon MacDonald’s book Ordering Your Private World

In this book, MacDonald proposes an antidote to stress, burnout, frustration, and many other states (physical and emotional) common to 21st-century Christians. This antidote is ordering your private world–your soul, your inner life, your relationship with God and the values that stem from it–so that a) no matter what happens in your outer world, you can maintain the peace and stability of your inner world, and b) the stability of your inner world can help define, create, and maintain stability of your outer world. 

The point is to sort what’s inside you first so that what’s outside you will fall into place and stay there. 

The order we seek begins with a thorough scouring of the inside of life. With tough questions that it may take others to help us answer. With a confronting of beliefs and principles that are toxic and destructive. With a listening to the voice of God who has better things for us.

p. xvii

I’ve read this book more than once, and its principles have returned to my mind frequently over the past months as I seek to balance my schedule, my health, my heart, my mind, and my soul. As I fight stress and recover from upsets to my routine and combat pressures from a million and one places. As I try to sort my limited resources into various demands. 

How do I do it all, yet not it all? How do I know what to do and what not to do? How to avoid the burnout I’ve already been through, the stress I hate, the pressures that suck the joy from even the things I love?

How do I wake up in the morning not asking God for a chance to hit “snooze” on the whole day but ready and excited to step into what He has waiting for me? 

I look at Jesus’s example and I see a man–yes, fully God, but also fully human–who had His inner world fully, perfectly, accurately ordered. Who kept in constant communion with His Father. Who lived in utter submission to God’s plan.

As a result, He was perfectly effective in the ministry God sent Him to do. As a result, He could push through the exhaustion when needed and take time to rest when able. As a result, He could do all that He did–as my mom often says and prays, “all of God’s will and only God’s will,” nothing more and nothing less.

I strive for that balance. That purpose. That fulfillment. I’m sure you do too. But how to reach that without burning out? Especially when we with chronic illness have extra-limited energy, time, and capacity? 

God has helped me by find some of these answers through even more questions:

Do I burn out

  • because I don’t know my values, the driving “why” behind the “what”?
  • because I have too many values or goals?
  • because I bow to others’ expectations?
  • because I place unrealistic expectations on myself? 

This last question can be especially painful for those of us with perfectionist tendencies. It’s easy for us to, like the Pharisees, add to God’s will with a series of details, explanations, expectations, and requirements we can’t hope to fulfill. (And we know how Jesus responded to the Pharisees. See Matthew 23, Luke 11, Mark 7.)

Lately God has helped me recognize how much I complicate His simple will. How necessary the structure of my soul is to my internal and external wellbeing. How my tasks fit or don’t fit into my values as I seek, like Jesus, to know my Father’s will and do all of His will but only His will each moment of every day. 

I invite you to join me. Let’s step into 2023 together.

What do you believe about God? How do these beliefs shape your values? How do these values determine your goals? How do these goals lead to your decisions?

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